Thursday, August 26, 2021

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day

White letters on a green square - "Do you know what an overdose looks like?"

The aims of International Overdose Awareness Day are to:

  • End overdose,
  • Remember those who have died, without stigma, and
  • Acknowledge the grief of the families and friends left behind by those who have died.

The theme of International Overdose Day is “Time to Remember. Time to Act.” Find out more about International Overdose Awareness Day, including ways you can get involved, here:

An overdose occurs when someone has more of a drug or drugs in their body than their system can cope with. Any drug, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, illegal drugs, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, can cause an overdose. Overdosing symptoms vary with the type of drug(s) involved.

What is tolerance?

Tolerance to the effects of drugs build up with regular drug use. Tolerance means that the person needs to take more and more of the drug to continue to get the same effect.

You lose tolerance if you haven’t used the drug in a while. This can happen from being in rehab, a detox program, or in prison without access to drugs. Tolerance wears off. Then if you return to drug use at your former high level, you are likely to overdose because your body is no longer used to that much of the drug.

What is half-life?

Any drug, once taken, begins to become less effective as time passes. Some drugs are metabolized into other substances, others are eliminated from the body. As the amount of the drug in your system decreases, you feel fewer effects from it.

It is important to understand the half-life of drugs. This is the time that it takes for a dose to drop down to half strength in the body. For instance, the half-life of Valium is 24 hours. This means that a day after taking a dose of Valium, half of it remains active in your body. If you take the same dose 24 hours after taking the first dose, you will then have 1 ½ doses active in your body at the same time, which could be an overdose. Understanding half-lives is particularly important when multiple drugs are involved.

Doesn’t Naloxone help?

Yes, Naloxone (Narcan) is a medication used to revive people who have had an overdose of opioids (methadone or oxycontin, for example). It is very effective for this use. However, an important caution after being administered naloxone is that you risk having an urge to take more of the drug that caused the overdose in the first place.

This is because of a difference in half-lives between naloxone and opioids. While the half-life of opioids is around 12 hours (meaning half the overdose amount is still in your body half a day later), the half-life of naloxone is much shorter, only 60-90 minutes. Naloxone is powerful immediately after being administered, but its effects wear off much faster than do the effects of the opioids. It is important for people who have been revived with naloxone to not return to taking the drug that caused the overdose.

Remember, overdose death is a preventable tragedy. Your advocacy to end overdose could save lives as well as sorrow.

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